Have you noticed that the volume on your TV or radio dials is higher than it used to be? Are your family and friends complaining that you never hear them, or pay attention when they speak? These could be the early signs of hearing loss.

Life on a farm or ranch can be noisy. Most animals, machinery or trucks aren’t quiet, and over several years, this can take a toll on your overall hearing. The damage could already be done.  Loud noise is the most common cause of permanent hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss is very dangerous; it is non-repairable and cannot be corrected by hearing aids. Preventing hearing loss through personal protective equipment is important for anyone who works in noisy environments.

Tips to Prevent Hearing Loss

The first step is to make sure that everyone understands the effects that noise can have on their hearing. It’s not just tractors that can damage your ears. Some power equipment, power tools, recreational vehicles and loud music can all effect hearing. The louder the noise and the greater length of exposure, the larger chance of permanent hearing loss.

If you employ people on your farm or ranch, a higher standard applies.  If workers are exposed to a time-weighted average of 85 decibels or more of noise over an eight hour period, employers are expected to implement a hearing conservation program.  A free smartphone app from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) can help estimate sound levels in the workplace.

If anyone in your family or any employees are having difficulty hearing, encourage them to get tested so any problems can be identified and monitored. Your doctor can run tests to help discover if the hearing disorder is noise-related or not.

Even though they might seem like an annoyance, wearing hearing protection is important when you are working around loud noise. Earplugs and hearing protecting earmuffs are both good options. If you are going to regularly wear earplugs, you could consider getting them custom fitted so they fit comfortably in your ear. If you’re going to use earplugs, use rubber, plastic, wax or foam, not ordinary cotton. The cotton won’t work as an effective hearing protector. Some prefer hearing protecting earmuffs because they are easier to take off and put back on, and they may find earplugs uncomfortable. Earmuffs need to seal well around your ear to be effective.

Consider the following to help reduce the risk of hearing loss:

  • Use hearing protection during all noisy jobs, from the moment you start, until the noise is shut off.
  • When purchasing new tractors, machinery or equipment consider choosing one with quiet operation.
  • Keep your machinery and equipment well lubricated and maintained; regularly check to make sure components are tightened. Well-maintained machinery and equipment will help prevent any unnecessary loud noise.
  • Do not use a “straight pipe” exhaust. It does not increase power and the increased sound levels may be damaging to your hearing.
  • If you aren’t in control of or tending to equipment that is loud, stay away from the noise.
  • If you don’t have hearing protection with you, limit the time you are exposed to the noise.

More Than Hearing May Be At Risk

Noise doesn’t just affect your hearing. It can quicken your pulse, increase blood pressure and narrow your blood vessels. Over a long period, these can place an added burden on your heart. Noise can also cause abnormal production of hormones or tensing of muscles. Some may complain of nervousness, sleeplessness and fatigue; job performance can also suffer.

Loud noises are common on a farm or ranch. Although you can’t see the damage it can cause, you could in the future, and by then it could be too late. Take action today to protect yourself, family and employees from hearing damage and other health concerns related to exposure to loud noise. A good rule of thumb is if you have to shout, yell or speak loudly to a person three feet away, it’s too loud.